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Healthy Homes - Asthma



Asthma is a serious lung disease. During an asthma attack, the airways get narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain and tightness and coughing. Asthma can even cause death.  About 20 million Americans have asthma. Asthma is the leading cause of long-term illness in children. A Healthy Home can make a difference.

Asthma attacks

An asthma attack happens in your body's airways, which are the paths that carry air to your lungs. As the air moves through your lungs, the airways become smaller, like the branches of a tree are smaller than the tree trunk. During an asthma attack, the sides of the airways in your lungs swell and the airways shrink. Less air gets in and out of your lungs, and mucus that your body produces clogs up the airways even more. The attack may include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing. Some people call an asthma attack an episode.  An asthma attack can occur when you are exposed to things in the environment, such as house dust mites and tobacco smoke. These are called asthma triggers.

Asthma triggers

Asthma may be triggered by allergens and irritants that are common in homes. Asthma can be controlled by avoiding the triggers that can cause an attack. Secondhand smoke, pests, mold, air pollution, foods, respiratory infections, and pet dander are a few.

Asthma can be triggered by the smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar and the smoke breathed out by a smoker.  Choose not to smoke in your home or car and do not allow others to do so either.  For help to quit smoking, click here.

Pest's such as cockroaches or rodents can be asthma triggers.   To control pests in your home

  • Do not leave food or garbage out.
  • Store food in airtight containers.
  • Clean all food crumbs or spilled liquids right away.

Dust mites are too small to be seen but are found in every home.  They live in mattresses, pillows, carpets, fabric-covered furniture, bedding, clothes and stuffed toys.

  • Wash sheets and blankets once a week in hot water.
  • Choose washable stuffed toys, wash them often in hot water and dry thoroughly.  
  • Keep stuffed toys off beds.
  • Cover mattresses and pillows in dust-proof (allergen –impermeable) zippered covers.

Click here for more information on controlling pests in your home.

Molds grow on damp materials.  Mold control is moisture control.  Clean up the mold and get rid of excess water or moisture.  Lowering the moisture also helps reduce other triggers, such as dust mites and cockroaches.

  • Wash mold off hard surfaces and dry completely.  Absorbent materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, with mold may need to be replaced.
  • Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water.
  • Keep drip pans in your air conditioner, refrigerator and dehumidifier clean and dry.
  • Use exhaust fans or open windows in kitchens and bathrooms when showering,
  • cooking or using the dishwasher.
  • Vent clothes dryers to the outside.
  • Maintain low indoor humidity, ideally between 30-50% relative humidity.  Humidity levels can be measured by hygrometers which are available at local hardware stores.

Click here for more information on controlling mold in your home.

House dust contains asthma triggers. Remove dust often with a damp cloth and vacuum carpet and fabric-covered furniture to reduce dust build-up.  Allergic people should leave the area being vacuumed.  Using vacuums with high efficiency filters or central vacuums may be helpful.

Nitrogen dioxide is an odorless gas that can irritate your eyes, nose and throat and my cause shortness of breath.  This gas can come from the use of appliances that burn fuels, such as gas, wood and kerosene.

  • If possible, use fuel-burning appliances that are vented outside.  Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use these appliances.
  • Gas cooking stoves: Never use these to keep you warm or heat your house. 
  • If you have an exhaust fan, use it when you cook.
  • Unvented kerosene or gas space heaters:  Be sure to use the proper fuel and keep the heater adjusted in the proper manner.  Open a window slightly or use an exhaust fan.
  • Wood stoves:  Make sure the doors are tight fitting.  Follow the maker’s instructions for starting,
  • burning and putting out the fire.
  • Fireplaces: Always open the flue.

Chemical Irritants are found in some products in your home.  Items such as scented or unscented products including cleaners, paints, adhesives, pesticides, cosmetics, air fresheners or candles contain chemical irritants.  These may make your asthma worse.

  • Use these products less often or try different products.
  • Take great care to follow the instructions on the label.  If you use these products, make sure windows or doors are open and use an exhaust fan.

Pet’s skin flakes, urine and saliva can be asthma triggers. 

  • Consider keeping pets outdoors or finding a new home for your pets, if necessary.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom and other sleeping areas at all times. 
  • Keep the door closed to keep the pets out of the area.
  • Keep pets away from fabric-covered furniture, carpets and stuffed toys.

Other factors can cause an attack such as strenuous physical exercise; influenza, some medicines; bad weather, such as thunderstorms; high humidity; breathing in cold, dry air; biomass smoke from burning wood, grass, or other vegetation; and some foods and food additives.

Learn what triggers your attacks so that you can avoid the triggers whenever possible.

Ozone and asthma

If your local weather forecast announces an “Ozone Action Day,” stay inside as much as possible.  You should also avoid overexertion on Action Days.  If you must work outside, try to work in early morning or late evening, not during the heat of the day.  You can also check various Internet sites for the Air Quality Index and Alerts.

You can control your Asthma by knowing the warning signs of an attack, staying away from things that trigger an attack, and following the advice of your doctor or other medical professional.  When you control your Asthma:

  • you will not have symptoms such as wheezing or coughing,
  • you will sleep better,
  • you will not miss work or school,
  • you can take part in all physical activities,
  • you will not have to go to the hospital, and
  • you will feel better!

Interactive Asthma Data Dashboard 

To learn more about asthma data from 2000 to 2013 in Tennessee, click the link below. Our interactive data dashboard will visualize the data you select. Chose data from different options like:

  • Rate by county
  • Rate by year
  • Rate by race
  • Rate by age group

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC)
Division of Air Pollution Control: Air Quality Alert

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Asthma and

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)